One of the best things about this save is that, being an amateur club, I don’t have to worry about how to get rid of players that are not up to scratch or just not as good as the new guy that has caught my eye. I was watching a documentary on Brian Clough the other day, and his long-term partner (and for me, the reason Clough is considered a great manager) Peter Taylor was talking about the chat he gave players whenever they were signed – it was along the lines of “lad, the minute we find someone better than you we will replace you, your challenge is to make sure that never happens!”
So far at Haarlem I have chopped and changed more than Claudio Ranieri in his prime. I am fortunate enough to have a very good chief scout that is doing a sterling job of finding me Dutch U23’s that are typically free agents or amateurs somewhere else. I have a signing process in place now. Every week I check my scouting reports from Adi Brouwers, I have it set up in date order so I can see what new talent he has found. I then ask him to go and look at him again, and if I still like the look of the lad then I get my Head of Youth Development, Johnny Rep, to go and give me a second opinion. If, and only then, we all agree he is an upgrade on the weakest link in the squad for that position then I try and sign them. Once signed, I then let the weakest link go. It seems to be working, as heading into the December matches this team that has been thrown together sits second in the table. My U23 only signing policy means that the squad currently has an average age of 20.
Our first game in December was against DOSKO and by then I had brought in Imad Hamria, a talented winger who will be turned into a central winger to compete with Olde Monnilhof. In return, I released Hanno Lefeber who had been moaning about not playing. DOSKO were second bottom, and as we were on a run of four wins in a row I was hopeful of making it five. Bans for my two left-footed defenders, Lopes and Niewenhuis meant we were a little lopsided at the back, but I felt we had enough about us.
A lovely flowing move from their corner led to Sadiek scoring from a tight angle, possibly our best goal of the season so far. Twenty five in our ‘keeper, Meesters, came wandering for a cross and got nowhere near it and it was 1-1. I’d realised in the week his stats were declining and the backroom no longer rated him, it might be time for a change. We went straight up the other end and won a corner, taken short and scored from the second ball in. My mind was made up on Meesters after fifty minutes, another cross, another flap and it was 2-2. Twenty minutes to go and we were 3-2 down, a potential disaster looming and is turned out to be one of those games. 62% possession, 82% pass completion, 27 shots, 22 on target. They had three shots and three on target and scored three goals. It happens. I tore into them, and the screen flashed red all over the place, but hey – these boys were second bottom and we were poor tonight. Somehow we didn’t lose second spot, but the gap between us and ASWH grew to five points.
We were back at the Haarlem Stadion for the last game before 2015 was upon us. The opposition were SteDoCo and I was looking for a big response. I had sent Johnny Rep out to look at two new goalkeepers and hoped he might come back with a result before the game. Flu meant that Meesters would not be playing either way. Rep didn’t file a report in time so back-up ‘keeper van Schieeven was in for a debut alongside Hamria who I hoped was as good as I thought he might be. Also back was Niewenhuis, giving me some balance at the back.
We sneaked ahead before half time, Fer’s long range effort hitting the post and rebounding in off the ‘keeper. Right after half time they hit us on the break to equalise. But, with five minutes to go, Ronckers rifled one into the top corner to seal the win. Come on! The ‘keeper did ok, one very good save at 1-1 that proved crucial. The three points meant we ended 2014 in second place, which was not bad considering the amount of changes I keep making.
We had a two week rest before the next match, a trip to 3rd placed Niuewehoorn. They looked like a good side, just quietly going about their business and had lost one fewer than us. I kept faith with van Schieeven in goal and HoH was back in place of the injured Brinkman. Other than that, it was the same eleven that won the last game.
We managed to go in at half time two goals to the good, Benda it like Beckham and HoH netting. Bobby D advised me not to say anything at HT, so I didn’t. Five minutes later their left winger hit a worldy from distance and it flew into the top corner, cracking strike. Big Bad Bram restored the two goal advantage after the hour and then got his hattrick with ten minutes to go. This was going to be a big win. We had gone to the team below us and done them 4-1. Happy days!
Heinenoord, who we stuffed 4-0 first game of the season, were our next task. We were one nil down after 23 seconds. I dropped us a little deeper and we scored at once, Burleson. Annoyingly, they went ahead again right away. Was this going to be another game we should have won? It certainly looked it when Racjal was red carded for a bad foul from behind. We came in 3-1 down at the break. It was 4-1 by the final whistle, our worst league showing of the season. Sure, we weren’t helped by an hour with ten men, but we were poor. It saw the gap at the top widen to 8 points, and suddenly promotion felt a very long way away.
We had two weeks to lick our wounds, so I tried dipping into the transfer market again – I was looking for a new goalkeeper and another striker. To be honest, there weren’t many I hadn’t already run the rule over so it looked like I was going to have to stick with what I had this time. We had thirteen league games left to make up the eight points, but we also had to play ASWH again – so if we beat them and didn’t drop too many more points we had an outside chance, but only an outside one.
A new goalkeeper did materialise, De Voss, and it saw me release van Schieeven. I needed this guy to settle quickly! Next up were going to be GOES, and I licked my lips at the potential for puns. But before I GOES into that match, I had to persuade my coach, den Otter, not to be tempted to GOES to Den Bosch – they wanted him to coach their goalkeepers. I did almost let him go, as ours have been shocking so far this season so he can’t be that much of a coach.
Somehow we led 2-1 at half time. De Voss, on debut, had saved a penalty but we were not playing well. Bram and Brinkman, who sound like a law firm, had got the goals. A kick up the backside at half time paid off, and Olde Monnikhof got our third right away. Another short corner worked, and Ronckers made me go bonkers with number four! It was quickly 4-2, then 5-2 when Brinkman got his second. The big man got his second treble of the season and amazingly we were 6-2 up, not bad for the bank balance. 6-2 became 6-3 before the end and then 6-4. It was total madness, sometimes everything GOES well and sometimes everything GOES crazy.
I was a little concerned that we had conceded eight goals in two games, but then two of my first choice back three were injured and suspended.
Promotion in the first season was unlikely, and as it stands we are performing above expectation but I am so damn used to getting out of the lower divisions it will feel like a big miss if I fail to do it this time. But then again, this is the youngest side I have ever managed and the future for this Dutch club is so bright it might even be Oranje.
Kom op Haarlem!
(if you enjoyed all that ramble, why not read a chapter of my second book, “Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager: The Second Season Syndrome” here: https://comeontheoviedo.wordpress.com/johnny-cooper/read-a-chapter-of-the-second-season-syndrome/)